Film, Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Disney’s WISH Starring Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk

Posted: November 22, 2023 at 10:20 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Happy 100th birthday, Disney!

Wish is a celebration of Disney; the legacy of 100 years of combining top-notch animation with stars singing catchy earworms that fans still sing years after the movies were released. It’s a blend of classic and new animation styles, music, even presentation (more on this later). It’s all in honor of the Mickey Mouse centennial; welcome to the celebration.

But how’s the movie itself?

I’ll say this. Of all the Disney movies I’ve seen, Wish sure is one of them.

Ariana DeBose headlines as Asha, the 17-year old protagonist who’s hoping to land a position as the apprentice to Chris Pine’s aptly named King Magnifico (his parents must have known something). Ruling over the Mediterranean isle of Rosas, Magnifico is a powerful sorcerer who uses his ability to protect Rosas and each year grant the wish of one citizen. On each person’s 18th birthday, they tell him their wish, which he then stores in his castle.

Seems idyllic, right? Sadly, the interview process doesn’t go well for Asha, who learns that once a person gives Magnifico their wish, they completely forget what it was. Believing this to be unfair, as Asha believes everyone who doesn’t get their wish granted should receive it back so they may try to make it come true themselves, she then goes to work with her trusty pet goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk) to make it happen.

Unfortunately, it feels like at times Wish struggles to find an identity. Disney threw in plenty of references and throwbacks to past films; the post-credits show characters from many of the original classics such as Snow White, Dumbo, etc. The film is a blend of computer animation and old-school waterpaint animation, which I think worked well enough. Asha’s friends who help her are distinct nods to the dwarves in Snow White. They even presented the film in the 2.55:1 format that Sleeping Beauty was released in.

But what’s an animated Disney movie without a topnotch soundtrack with memorable songs? I don’t think you can really list too many of the best movies without mentioning a song or two from its soundtrack that still resonate with audiences today. I remember taking an ex to see Frozen when it came out and I was hearing the songs for months after. My friends still use the “You’re welcome!” gif from Moana with aplomb. And it’s here that I think the movie unfortunately falls a bit flat. The credits list Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice as writing the songs (with the incomparable Dave Metzger scoring the rest of the film), but you could be forgiven if you instinctively picture Lin-Manuel Miranda in your head upon hearing the songs. It’s tough to deny the influence he’s had on the industry with his trademark rapid fire lyrics, and while they don’t outright steal his patterns (the tempo for most of the songs in the movie are slowed down a bit), it feels like they definitely had him in mind. 

But does it work? And the answer is…kinda? Chris Pine is okay in his singing parts. He isn’t a great singer, and to his credit, he’s admitted as much. He has one solo song, “This is the Thanks I Get?!” but it’s likely not going to hold up to some of the villain classics of yesteryear. DeBose, who is a phenomenal singing talent, gets the lionshare of the singing, and she certainly crushes her part, with soaring vocals in “This Wish” and “I’m a Star.” Musically, the songs are structured very simplistically. I don’t know if I’ve really paid much attention in the past, but many of the songs were rather simple two-chord progressions in the verses and/or choruses; the protagonists’ rallying song, “Knowing What I Know Now,” is a very standard AABA marching song. Pine’s song is written in a descending structure, as the chord progression slides down the scale, perhaps an audible indication of his descent into madness. Are the songs catchy? Sure. Will they be classic hits ten years down the road? It’s possible, but I’m leaning against it.

Perhaps most telling, and certainly more important than my opinion, is the reaction of the children in the audience; after all, while Disney certainly appeals to adults, the films are meant to appeal to kids. If the children aren’t fans of it, then the movie will be discarded and forgotten as quickly as my poem I wrote to my crush in grade school. I tried to gauge the reaction of the kids at the screening as much as the action on-screen, and I noticed that for the first half-hour or so, until the adorable Star first appeared, the audience was dead silent. No giggles, no kids getting excited about the music, no surprised or upset reactions to the villain. Now, certainly that could simply be kids being polite, but when Star appeared and in a few other scenes, the kids got notably excited and a few laughs were had. Overall, though, reaction was mostly tepid. There were some laughs from the adults as well, but it didn’t seem to garner the response that another recent animated musical, Trolls, did.

I brought my good friend Amanda, a huge Disney fan, with me, as it was originally her idea to see it. I was hoping she was going to love it, but even she had a very measured reaction, liking some of the music, but indicating it didn’t feel like some of the Disney classics she loves. I haven’t seen nearly as many of the animated films as she has, but I’d still have to agree. It’s not for fault of the cast; they all did a terrific job. The legendary Dave Metzger does his magic scoring the film, and I think he nailed it, as always. The music, however, kept it from soaring too high for me; while the songs were good, I don’t know whether I’d consider them great, or even memorable. Wish was expensive to make (the budget is estimated to have been around $200 million) and while I’m sure enough people will go see it, they’d probably be hard-pressed to turn it into a series. The movie is meant to be a celebration of the past 100 years, but it’s tough to move forward while you’re simultaneously looking backwards; Wish tries to do exactly that, and the results are about what you’d expect.

Wish gets a C+